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New Museum Celebrates Life of Churchill

Crowds are flocking to London's new Churchill Museum, which delves into the life and times of Britain's World War II-era prime minister, Winston Churchill, recently voted the greatest Briton of all time.

As visitors step into the Churchill Museum, the sights and sounds of London in World War II come alive, as the exhibits use 21st century technology to illustrate the times of a 20th century giant.

More than 170 objects from Winston Churchill's life are on display in the 1,000 square-meter exhibit. It is a newly opened section of the Cabinet War Rooms, the underground bunker where Mr. Churchill and his staff worked as Nazi German aircraft pummeled London during the Battle of Britain.

A Churchill historian, David Reynolds, says the museum impresses visitors with just how important Winston Churchill still is to their own lives.

"This man was the leader of the country in one of the greatest crises of its modern history," said Mr. Reynolds. "And, of course, a crisis that still, as it were, still has its effects on us today. If you think of our relationship with Europe, with France, it's very much born out of 1940, still. If you think of our relationship with America, the same is true."

Among those attending opening day ceremonies was Winston Spencer Churchill, the wartime leader's grandson and namesake. He says there is a deplorable lack of knowledge about his grandfather among young people, and he hopes the museum can enlighten them.

"How many of the younger generation know that it is thanks to Britain and the courage of the British nation that Europe is free today? Because had Britain surrendered in the summer of 1940, it is entirely possible that the Nazi swastika would still be floating not just over the Palace of Westminster and Buckingham Palace, but over all the capital cities of Europe," said Winston Spencer Churchill.

Among the many recordings of Prime Minister Churchill's speeches available at the museum is his famous "finest hour" address to Parliament on June 18, 1940. He used the speech to rally his countrymen for the fight ahead, as France was falling under Nazi occupation, and Britain became Adolph Hitler's next target.

"Let us, therefore, brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a 1,000 years, men will still say: 'This was their finest hour.'"

Winston Churchill, the grandson, lived, during the war, in an annex directly above the new museum. He says his grandfather had little time for family life in those burdensome days, but he does recall one fond memory.

"When I was about three-and-a-half-years-old, so that would have been about the spring of 1944, I had peremptorily demanded my own little railway system," he said. "And, of course, there were no toy shops open in London, but enquiries were set afoot, and one day, to my grandfather's huge delight, a young marine guard brought into the bedroom upstairs a battered cardboard box with somebody's no-longer required second-hand train set. And, so, my grandfather and I get down on our hands and knees on the carpet, and it's a circular track, and he and I set it up together. To his huge delight, he sees that there are, not one, but two little clockwork locomotives, and he gives one to me, and said: 'Winston, you wind that one up, I'll wind this one up. Let's put them back-to-back. Let's have a crash!'"

While Prime Minister Churchill is best remembered for his role in World War II, the museum also examines many other aspects of his long life in public service, the arts and letters, from the time he left Sandhurst military academy in 1895 until his death, at age 90, in 1965.

Visitors learn, for example, that Winston Churchill was not always on the right side of history, as illustrated by his confrontation with India's Mahatma Gandhi.

CHURCHILL: "For I feel that the Indian danger will raise a crisis equal in importance to the greatest events in the history of Great Britain."

NARRATOR: "The Indian boycott of British cotton was one of the reasons Churchill spoke out vehemently against Mahatma Gandhi, spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement."

Among the exhibit's pieces is an actual door of Number 10 Downing Street that was there at the residence when Winston Churchill was prime minister. There's a quote beside it saying: "I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour, and for this trial. I was sure I should not fail. "